From Facebook, to Twitter to the college commencement speech, no writer is more quotable than Mark Twain. The author of such classics as A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is one of America’s most famous and iconic authors. Over the years, there have been many stage adaptations of Mr. Twain’s work and several actors have portrayed the renowned scribe on stage and screen including Val Kilmer and Woody Harrelson. There have been several one man shows about his life, the most successful of which is Mark Twain Tonight which was written by and stars Hal Holbrook.
On Saturday, January 31, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. Mark Twain Tonight comes to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland. Mr. Holbrook originally wrote the one man show in 1954. After sixty years on stage it is the longest running show in American theater. The show is always evolving as Mr. Holbrook consistently modifies the script. The performance is unique as it portrays Mr. Twain as an iconoclast and social critic who was ahead of his time.
Mark Twain Tonight was Mr. Holbrook’s first play. He began performing it when he was in college and he is still performing it in his eighty ninth year. Mr. Holbrook was discovered when Ed Sullivan saw the show and invited the young playwright to perform an excerpt from it on The Ed Sullivan Show. Casting directors took note of the performance and he went on to perform as an actor on Broadway. He eventually began acting in television and in films. He costarred with Martin Sheen in the television movie That Certain Summer as the gay father of a teenaged boy. The film was considered to be one of the first that portray homosexuals as sympathetic characters. Although Mr. Holbrook appeared in many films, he is perhaps most famous for playing the role of Deep Throat in All the President’s Men in 1976.
Mr. Holbrook preforms the role of Mark Twain in a white wig and a white suite while puffing on a cigar. Although Mr. Holbrook has been performing the show his whole life, Mr. Twain has always been portrayed as an old man who often loses his train of thought and falls asleep while telling a story. The show is mostly humorous and features Mr. Twain telling tales to the audience which incorporate various quotes from his famous writings. He tells stories of people he has known including a woman with a glass eye that was too small for her eye socket and a man who dies in a freak carpet weaving accident.
Much of the dialog exhibits Mr. Twain’s witty misanthropy. He says that he became a reporter because he couldn’t find honest work. Speaking of religion, he says that he wishes the missionaries would come home to save the Christians in America. Speaking of man’s superiority to animals he says “man is the only animal that blushes or needs to.”
According to the American Library Association, Mr. Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been one of the most often banned books due to the frequent use of a well-known racial epithet. Never one to shy away from controversy, Mr. Holbrook does a long monologue from the book in which Huck describes the God fearing people in his town as bumbling fools and Tom the runaway slave as a complex and decent man whose only desire is to get to a free state where he can earn money to buy his wife and children from the man who owns them. The performance also emphasizes Mr. Twain’s progressive views on racial politics and slavery.
Tickets to the show are $42.00 to $79.00 and available through TicketWest Outlets or the Portland5 box office or by phone.
Eliza Gale – PortlandMetroLive Contributor
Eliza Gale began her blogging career interviewing aspiring actors and industry professionals on a Los Angeles based website called Curvewire. She started www.elizagalesintervviews in 2012 and has interviewed over three hundred people about their jobs and businesses since then. She has contributed many interviews to 360drinks.com, which is a Portland based happy-hour website. She also writes for Examiner.com and AXS.com.